EOA Chair appointment completes new line-up for EO Champions

The Employee Ownership Association (EOA) has appointed a new Chair who will take over the role at its next board meeting on October 22.

Chris McDermott, Managing Director of The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan, will take over from former John Lewis Partnership Director of Communications, Simon Fowler, who has been Chair for the past decade.

Chris, who has worked for The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan in various roles for 17 years becoming Managing Director in 2015, started his career in journalism, PR and communications.

The announcement follows last month’s news of the appointment of new EOA President Patrick Lewis – the great-grandson of John Lewis and great nephew of John Spedan Lewis who developed the partnership. Chris brings with him the knowledge and experience of leading a successful employee owned business that transitioned 10 years ago, making it a great match of insight from employee ownership pioneers old and new.

In 2019, Chris and the rest of The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan’s 237 employee stakeholders won the Employee Owned Business of the Year in the UK Employee Ownership Awards. The business, which is a 100% employee owned, sells diet shakes, soups and bars that are proudly manufactured in Corby, Northants. It supports more than 7,000 UK independent sales consultants who distribute the products and provide support to those who are trying to lose weight and exports to more than 30 countries.

Judges praised the businesses’ continued evolution of its culture, engagement and performance which last year saw it record a 75% employee satisfaction rate, a 23% increase in turnover and 10% of profit distributed in a dividend to all its employee stakeholders. They also noted that employee owners were united behind a new strategy, rebrand and £4.5m investment, which marked the business’ ‘financial freedom’ – after repaying of funding used to transfer ownership to the employees ahead of schedule.

Chris, who was given the news of his appointment as Chair in the first few months of lockdown, already believed in employee ownership as a transformative model to drive better governance, employee engagement and productivity, as well as its relevance to rooting jobs in Corby for the longer term. However, working in an EO business during a crisis has developed his thinking further on the resilience of employee owned businesses.

Chris McDermott, Managing Director of the 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan, said:

“There has been encouraging growth in employee ownership – which offers huge benefits to individuals, businesses and the economy – with 50% of transitions to employee ownership happening since 2017.

However, there is still enormous untapped potential for employee ownership to help tackle key economic and social issues in the UK – the pandemic has only heightened the need for these benefits to be realised.

“During the pandemic in my own business we really felt the value of the trust built up through years of employee ownership, which meant we have been able to quickly adapt, make decisions and use the ‘power of ours’ to make sure everyone is doing what is needed, now and in the future.”

Deb Oxley, Chief Executive of the EOA, said:

“We warmly welcome Chris to the role of Chair and look forward to drawing on his insight and leadership to support both the growth of the EOA and the understanding of and respect for employee ownership and the role it has to play in supporting the UK to build back better.

“Our profound thanks go to outgoing Chair Simon Fowler whose dedication as a Director on the EOA’s board for the past 16 years, and as chair for the past 10 years, has driven a multitude of positive impacts for the EOA, its members and the EO sector as a whole.”